Back stiff, right leg falling asleep, eyes instructed to stare out the window, I had been sitting in the same position for an hour. “Why?” you may ask. Just modeling. It’s a typical day in ART 130: “Painting Basics.” Besides the sore ligaments, I actually feel quite happy and lucky to be in this 17-person introductory art class. This is just one example of a deeply frustrating phenomenon at Yale: introductory art classes are often inaccessible.
On the first day of shopping period, the studio for this introductory painting course was packed. I would estimate over 40 students. People squeezed in, sitting on windowsills and floors — perhaps because this class was taught by a renowned art critic or maybe because for so many, “art” connotes “gut” on campus.
The crowd was diverse. I recognized a senior from my church who sought a break from her economics-oriented path and wanted to try something new before starting her banking career post-graduation. I spotted other friends who are art majors, computer science whizzes and history aficionados — all panicking, worried that they might not get a spot in this class.
I knew that Yale had competitive seminars with limited spots that students would have to vie for. But weren’t they supposed to be advanced and major-specific seminars, or labelled in the 300-400 range? Introductory courses are not supposed to be small seminars with capped entry. That raises the bar for people to even try the subject in the first place. There’s a reason why PSYC 110: “Introduction to Psychology” is a massive lecture with over 150 students, not an intimate seminar.
I’m an artist, or I at least used to be one. In high school, I painted at a private art studio for hours after class, making long late-night drives to commute and having lengthy conversations with my parents to justify the cost and effort. A naïve part of me thought Yale would be different. I would have the resources and freedom to shadow art professors, learn color theory and sit with my canvas for hours. After all, Yale is home to the best art program in the world, touting a “#1 in Fine Arts” and “#1 in Painting/Drawing,” according to U.S. News and World Report. But alas, naivety must meet reality — Yale has disappointed me.
I had to write a multiple-paragraph explanation for why I should be able to take an introductory graphic design course. But even when students do get into art classes at Yale, they face another barrier: costs. In my current painting course, my classmates and I had to purchase supplies of oil paints and brushes that totaled around $200 dollars. In addition to oversubscription, the high costs of art classes at Yale is a very real concern that oftentimes gets forgotten immediately after shopping period.
The inaccessibility doesn’t end inside the classroom. Outside of class, student artists want to paint. I want to have an area to set up my easel and paint portraits in the evening. While it’s possible to draw or do watercolor paintings in our room or suites, oil paintings are another matter. Oil paints contain toxic fumes and their byproducts — the paper towels we use to clean brushes or used palette paper, if disposed of incorrectly, can be quite hazardous. That’s why painting in our suite or a random classroom in WLH is not the best idea. But the art school only gives studio space to art majors, and other painting spaces are residential-college specific and require reservations — effectively excluding the non-art-major artists from taking part.
This piece’s purpose isn’t to point fingers; it’s to encourage improvement. Frankly, my art classes each semester are always my favorites. The professors, often working designers and experienced curators, bring amazing insight and critique. The director of undergraduate studies is supportive and genuinely helpful when you meet her in office hours. But I just wish more of Yale could access this subject, its spaces and the creative people who populate them.
From listening to my peers and fellow artists, I know that we would greatly benefit and grow as artists if art classes were more accessible and less costly, and if there were more spaces to paint outside of class. Yale, live up to your rankings.
MICHELLE FANG is a sophomore in Davenport College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .